NEW YORK — Free agency opens in less than a week, unless the New York Knicks go to court to halt it.
Is that really possible?
Well, nothing can be ruled out with the Knicks sitting in a state of limbo after the NBA said it would appeal an arbitrator’s decision granting full Bird rights to Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak (along with J.J. Hickson of the Portland Trail Blazers and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers.)
If the ruling stands, the Knicks can match any offer to Lin (a restricted free agent) and Novak (an unrestricted free agent) and still retain their mid-level exception to go after whoever else they want to pursue (Steve Nash? Jason Kidd?). If the ruling is overturned on appeal, the Knicks are certain to lose Novak, and they would not be able to pursue a mid-level veteran point guard to play with Lin — who they insist they plan to retain.
So here’s the biggest part of the problem, time-wise.
Under NBA collective bargaining rules, when one side wants to appeal an arbitrator’s decision, the procedure is to have the league office and the union agree on the members of a three-person appeals panel, for that body to hold a hearing on the appeal, and then issue a ruling within 20 days.
But it could literally takes months for that process to unfold.
So with the Lin/Novak case in limbo, the Knicks are in limbo, too — and at an unfair disadvantage in free agency because they are unsure what rules they will be operating under.
If midnight of June 30 approaches and there is still no clarity, one of the Knicks’ options would be to seek a temporary restraining order halting ALL teams from negotiating with free agents.
Will it come to that?
There is already talk that a settlement might be reached, but that talk is speculative. And remember, there is still a lot of bad blood between the attorneys for both sides after last year’s 149-day lockout, and these guys aren’t exactly known for working out their differences in a timely manner.
Something to keep an eye on over the rest of this week, because it could throw a giant monkey wrench into the entire free agent process.